Is public policy or governmental support critical for sustainability efforts?
Sustainable Business

Michael Lenox and Stuart MacDonald discuss the role of government in pushing sustainable innovation forward.

Stuart MacDonald (00:10):

As far as public policy supporting these innovations, we’re seeing a lot of that abroad. Certainly Western Europe, China is supporting innovation. Here in the United States and North America, the polarized climate political climate makes that difficult at the moment. But do you see it as central to having the impact required? So walk us back from the three and a half degree cliff.

Michael Lenox (00:44):

I have a new book coming out where we’re looking at the path to 2050, basically the time period in which we need to decarbonize the global economy and how that might occur. On the positive side, when it comes to innovation, as you drive technologies to being kind of preferable in the marketplace on the current dimensions of America, again, low cost, renewable energy, those should diffuse broadly through the global economy, even if your country didn’t invent the technology itself. That’s the good news. We don’t need everywhere to be having to kind of advance these technologies. However, the shifts themselves in these technologies often require simultaneous investments in our overall kind of infrastructure, if you will, and advancements in the policy environment and those things, can you see their speed up or slow down technology shifts and they become incredibly important as we talk about the timeframe we are now, especially in the next decade for bringing those about – moving towards decarbonizing electrical generation, renewables and others. Now there’s a whole host of challenges here in terms of infrastructure, what we call smart grid, and the need for a smart grid. The potential of distributed energy, all of these things, are at one level of marketplace dynamic, but there’s huge policy and infrastructure and public pieces of this if we’re going to advance it as quickly as we need to. I don’t think we can avoid the importance of policy and the policy arena to help drive these transitions and these shifts. There’s lots of different ideas of different policy vehicles that could help do that. I’m of the fan of that. We need to be thinking about all of them, and there is no silver bullet. So what are the variety of things we need to be working on? That’s the kind of spirit of the book we’re writing is really breaking through the five or six major industry segments. Agriculture is one that has a huge impact on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. It’s going to be a very tough industry to transform on a global basis. And it’s going to require lots of different paths in terms of technology, new practices, and then policy helping, helping drive that forward.

Lenox is the Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business Administration, Senior Associate Dean, and Chief Strategy Officer at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

MacDonald is the Vice President of Product Development at Minneapolis-based 2DegreesCooler™.

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